The Black Eye on TUF Talent Level
Five years ago, Robin Black all but walked away from a successful music and television career to pursue his real passion: Mixed Martial Arts.
A true MMA obsessive, Black is an Analyst and On Air personality for The Fight Network and The Score, a color commentator for English broadcasts of Sengoku and DEEP as well as Ringside, CFC, AFC, MFL, The Score Fighting Series and other shows. He has also ring announced and done post-fight interviews for WRECK, CFC and other shows, and is a writer for TheNationalPost and Maxim Canada. In addition, Black manages a stable of 18 athletes (and growing) as managing partner of Black and associates Fighter management.
Black even stepped into the cage as a pro MMA Fighter fighting eight times and compiling a ‘not-quite-stellar’ (his words) professional MMA record of 3-5.
Reality TV. The twenty-first century’s fame lottery. Any normal person can become a star.
If a person can just have the audition of their life, just show the judges that they really are special, they can finally achieve their lifelong dream of becoming a Pop Star, or a Dancer, or a Top Model.
Or an Ultimate Fighter.
I’ve done reality TV, both as a judge on The MuchMusic VJ Search Series up here in Canada and as a subject of a documentary show about trying to become a fighter.
It’s a world that I’ve gotten to see close-up. And it’s fascinating.
This past weekend, I took one of Canada’s top 135 pound fighters, Nick Denis, down to The Ultimate Fighter auditions in Newark, New Jersey.
I was shocked by what I found there. And shocked by what I didn’t find.
Like most big UFC fans, I’ve watched all the seasons of The Ultimate Fighter and, like most fans, realized that some seasons the series is more about great TV drama than about great fighters.
The Series, known affectionately as ‘TUF’, is remembered as much for Junie “The Lunatic” Browning’s zany exploits, Jesse Taylor urinating on himself (and other urine-basted TUF behaviors), Ken and Tito acting like children, Jason Guida’s pix-elated junk and something called, ahem, “splushi”, as it is for KOs and submissions.
Based on that knowledge, and the fact that I had taken fighters to the TUF auditions before, I was expecting a room full of mediocre-fighters-with-great-gimmicks offset by a few legitimate top guys. I expected crazy haircuts and eye make-up and big pink fur coats. In the words of TKO and W-1 Bantamweight Champ Adrian Wooley, “I expected more assclowns”.
Instead of a room full of assclowns, the waiting area for the TUF 14 auditions was a Murderer’s Row of the top Bantamweights and Featherweight prospects in North America and the UK.
The level of talent and accomplishment in that room was shocking.
For every one guy wearing a pro wrestling mask and a three piece suit hoping to be a cage fighting version of William Hung, there were 20 fighters at an elite level.
A 9-0 brown belt AKA product here. A Viera Bros black belt with 6 KOs there. A couple top Division 1 wrestlers. A guy who beat Razor Rob McCullough in his first WEC fight. Veteran top 20 guys like Din Thomas and Wagnney Fabiano. Legitimate bad asses.
And all the top Canadians were there. Denis, Wooley, Delorme, Fraser, Nancoo, lotsa top guys.
My mind was blown.
It really made me realize how high, in just a few years, the top level of MMA talent has risen. How bad-assed the talent is out there. How elite a guy has to be to compete at the top level.
How much MMA is now like any other real professional sports. A game only for the best.
Even the selection process reflected this now. In years past, sometimes the show had to be selective and choose a “great TV” guy over a “great fighting skills” guy.
Now, the first step of the audition process looks to whittle the 500 hopefuls down until the 100 most talented fighters remain and, because there is now so much talent out there, choose the guys with the TV-worthy personalities from that group.
Now, because the talent level of the top 100 guys is so incredible high, there is no way a TV-worthy guy with limited skills can survive. If you put a mediocre fighter with a good made-for-TV back story in the cage with any of the top 60 or 80 guys these days, the bloodbath that will take place has no place on TV. Even Spike TV.
This show is no longer a short cut to UFC fame and fortune. Only top guys have the skills to get on this show now. Guys will become stars over night, but it will be great fighters getting this opportunity. Guys who have already fought their way to the top.
If the audition process for this edition of The Ultimate Fighter is any indication, we may be seeing a season packed with elite fighters, incredible talent, and mind-blowing fights that will overshadow all the trash talk and urine and “splushi”.
Robin Black loves to hear from you and gossip with other fight fans. Please always feel free to leave comments, good and bad, or email Robin anytime at Robin@TheFightNetwork.com.
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